The Miracle is All Miracle

What is miracle but the manifestation and realization of the truth in concrete terms. The miraculous is the norm not the exception. All creation is, when in right relationship, miraculous. There is, therefore, only one miracle — “… the Word became flesh … full of grace and truth.”

There is but one grand miracle.
It’s found where mystery dares dance
Across the dream of God
And flesh is born
As Spirit ravishes dull sod.

While the spirit touches flesh a longing is born.
It is a longing to know God.
It is a longing to taste the pleasures of his reality.
It is a crying out for help.
It is a desire for holiness,
A love for his judgments,
A grand remembrance of all his requirements.
(Celtic Devotions, by Calvin Miller, IVP, 2008)

“One is very often asked at present whether we could not have a Christianity stripped, or, as people who asked it say, ‘freed’ from its miraculous elements, a Christianity with the miraculous elements suppressed. Now, it seems to me that precisely the one religion in the world, or, at least the only one I know, with which you could not do that is Christianity. In a religion like Buddhism, if you took away the miracles attributed to Gautama Buddha in some very late sources, there would be no loss; in fact, the religion would get on very much better without them because in that case the miracles largely contradict the teaching. Or even in the case of a religion like Mohammedanism, nothing essential would be altered if you took away the miracles. You could have a great prophet preaching his dogmas without bringing in any miracles; they are only in the nature of a digression, or illuminated capitals. But you cannot possibly do that with Christianity, because the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left. There may be many admirable human things which Christianity shares with all other systems in the world, but there would be nothing specifically Christian. Conversely, once you have accepted that, then you will see that all other well-established Christian miracles—because, of course, there are ill-established Christian miracles; there are Christian legends just as much as there are heathen legends, or modern journalistic legends—you will see that all the well-established Christian miracles are part of it, that they all either prepare for, or exhibit, or result from the Incarnation. Just as every natural event exhibits the total character of the natural universe at a particular point and space of time; so every miracle exhibits the character of the Incarnation.” God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, by C.S. Lewis, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, September 30, 1994

How do I Read the Bible? A Partial Reponse

Form and content.

These are facets of what Fr. Stephen Freeman has termed the “one storey universe.” Another way of putting it would be to simply say, “The Mystery of the Incarnation and the Holy Trinity.

Engaging the Scriptures is a matter of form and content and results in obedience that has form and content. When asked by those with whom I engage in spiritual direction, “How should I engage in the discipline of scripture reading?,” I respond by saying, among other things, “In a lectionary manner.”

The lectionary method of encountering the Word of God is nothing less than the best for a variety of reasons:

  • Comprehensive and well balanced
  • Complete
  • Mystery driven not utility driven — the hiddenness and inexhaustibility of the Word is revealed and ingested through  trusting perseverance
  • Proper pace and rhythm that deeply reveals the pace and rhythm of the Holy Spirit in my live and the world around me
  • Rehearsal and deeper consummate union with the life and ministry of Christ Jesus
  • Interrelatedness of the Word – one testimony not a bunch of testimonies
  • Consistent – not myopic or “spun”
  • Basically the same from one year to the next — resists my childish need to “be entertained,” “invent a new and better plan,” and “make the Gospel relevant,” demanding instead (thank goodness) that I yield to its long term relevance and transformative dynamism
  • What we do not just what I do – it is our practice and therefore legitimately my practice
  • Helps me repent and be healed of my tendency to respond to my “favorite passages” and either knowingly or unknowingly continue to stay in my little self-congratulatory passion driven world
  • Provides the opportunity to realize and experience the fact that it is always all about Christ Jesus the eternal Son of God who is the Word in and through ALL of the word
  • Etc.

Granted, there are several of these lectionaries in the world-wide church in the East and the West. And, granted, they are not perfect. But, they are a lot better than the alternative… Actually, truth be told, a non-lectionary way of reading Scripture portrays a completely different matrix of understanding of Scripture — its nature and usage.

Here is a wonderful reflection by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon that exemplifies, in my opinion all of the best aspects of a lectionary based practice of Scriptural reading. I offer it desiring that you avail yourself of not only this reflection but ALL of his “ponderings.” They have been nothing less than a challenging and life-changing blessing to me from the first day I began reading them to today. I give thanks for the ministry of Christ in and through Fr. Patrick. I also hope you are as blessed as I was in the realization just how great a treasure we have in the lectionary-based way of engaging the Word of God. Let’s hear it for the true heart beat and greatness of the Holy Tradition.

Father Pat’s Pastoral Ponderings
October 13, 2013
(More of Fr. Reardon’s reflections can be found here)

Each year the Church’s Lenten reading of Genesis reaches its climax, just on the verge of Holy Week, with the story of Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers. The liturgical chants relevant to that story suggest why: the story of Joseph is taken as a prefiguring analogue, or typos, of the events of Holy Week and Pascha. To sum them up, Joseph was the beloved of his father, sold for a price by his brothers, unjustly accused and imprisoned on false testimony, enduring all with patience, and, finally, forgiving his oppressors. Joseph’s story thus adumbrates the dramatic days of Holy Week; his reunion with Jacob, furthermore, foreshadows Jesus’ Paschal restoration to the One who sent him: “I ascend to my Father” (John 20:17).

Joseph’s significance in the History of Salvation, nonetheless, consists in more than these points of correspondence with the Gospel narratives, because his place at the end of the Lenten season brings closure to themes—and resolution to conflicts—introduced at the beginning of that season. Without Joseph, Genesis would be a completely different book. His story looks back and ties everything together. Joseph looks forward to Christ by looking backward to the whole of Genesis.

For instance, we begin Lent with the account of man’s God-given rule over the land: “”Be fruitful and multiply; fill the land (ha’aretz) and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the land (ha’aretz)” (Genesis 1:28). Then, at the end of Genesis, Joseph appears in history as “the man, the lord of the land, (ha’ish ‘adone ha’aretz)” (42:30). Joseph is filled with the same “Spirit of God” (ruach ‘Elohim) that first hovered over Creation (1:2; 41:28).

Because of Joseph’s wise rule, Egypt becomes a fruitful place—nearly an Eden—to which come people from “all the land” (col ha’aretz) to be fed (41:57; cf. 41:54). Under Joseph’s rule, “the land  (ha’aretz) brought forth abundantly” (41:47). This scene in Egypt picks up the theme of abundance early in Genesis: “And the land (ha’aretz) brought forth grass, the seed-yielding herb according to its kind, and the fruit-yielding tree-its seed in itself-according to its kind. And God saw that it was good” (1:12).

Given the Holy Week context of the Atonement, there is a special significance in Joseph’s forgiveness of—and reconciliation with—his offending brothers. The crime of fratricide, early introduced in Genesis by Cain and extended through the vengeful mindset of Lamech, is overturned in the action of Joseph. Generations of fraternal contention are put right when wise Joseph, superceding Babel’s confusion of the tongues, suddenly breaks from Egyptian into Hebrew to exclaim, ‘ani Yoseph ‘achikem—“I am Joseph your brother” (45:4). In the full contextual narrative of Genesis, his words of forgiveness and comfort serve to amend the struggle between Ishmael and Isaac, and to soften Esau’s urge to murder Jacob. The fraternity of man is restored in the soul of Joseph.

It is not completely accurate to say that true fraternity is restored in Joseph, however, for the simple reason that in Genesis there never was any true fraternity; the sentiment and claims of brotherhood were violated from the beginning (4:8). So Joseph’s brothers, when they threw him into the pit, were simply carrying on the lethal tradition that had corrupted fraternity from the start.

Until Joseph, the Bible paints a landscape in which “every intent of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil (ra’ah) continually” (6:5). Indeed, with respect to his brothers, Joseph declared, “you meant evil (ra’ah) against me” (50:20). He, however, does not retaliate, thus breaking the evil cycle.

Why does he not retaliate? Genesis provides a hint: It is significant that immediately after identifying himself to his brothers Joseph inquires about Jacob: “Is my father still alive?” This is Joseph’s dominating concern: his father. What he does in this dramatic, redemptive scene, Joseph does with his father in mind. What he seeks, for himself and for his brothers, is reunion with the father. For Joseph, there is no true brotherhood except with this true fatherhood.

Joseph, then, emerges in Holy Scripture a living prophecy of Christ, inasmuch as he introduces into Salvation History the first example of thorough, unselfish forgiveness. He foreshadows the Atonement wrought by Christ, because he finds it in his heart to forgive his brothers for the sake of his father. To honor his father, Joseph makes himself—anew—brother to those who had rejected the claims of brotherhood.

Newness of Life — Riskless Risk and Changeless Change

Luke 11.9-13
[9] And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
[10] For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
[11] What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent;
[12] or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?
[13] If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

This passage is not about getting answers. It is about persevering on a journey. God invites us to persistently seek, ask, and knock for transformation. Transformation, on many occasions, seems like the opposite many times.

It means, at one and the same time, living on the edge of “my life” in order to live in the center of “God’s life.” Centered life is living on the edge. Likewise, transformation involves letting go of risky living. My need to be in control in all of the ways that expresses itself is the real risk, not living by faith. Living by faith is the willingness to be totally centered and secure in the changeless and dependable truth of God’s love and available to step out beyond the edge where it seems like there is nothing but change and impermanence and a lack of anything that might resemble a real future.

Transformation means, at a deep level, relinquishing our set of measurements regarding “progress” and “success” for another set — God’s set.

If we seek, ask, and knock, God will give us the greatest gift of all — Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit. But, be warned. He will wreck havoc on our nice neat little churchy fiefdoms. He will color outside the lines of propriety we have invented and advertised as the Kingdom of God and the right way to be Christian. (I’m just saying…)

Pope Francis reflects on this multifaceted mystery in his homily from Pentecost of this year. Here is an excerpt:

1. Newness always makes us a bit fearful, because we feel more  secure if we have everything under control, if we are the ones who build,  programme and plan our lives in accordance with our own ideas, our own comfort,  our own preferences. This is also the case when it comes to God. Often we  follow him, we accept him, but only up to a certain point. It is hard to  abandon ourselves to him with complete trust, allowing the Holy Spirit to be the  soul and guide of our lives in our every decision. We fear that God may force  us to strike out on new paths and leave behind our all too narrow, closed and  selfish horizons in order to become open to his own. Yet throughout the history  of salvation, whenever God reveals himself, he brings newness – God always  brings newness -, and demands our complete trust: Noah, mocked by all,  builds an ark and is saved; Abram leaves his land with only a promise in hand;  Moses stands up to the might of Pharaoh and leads his people to freedom; the  apostles, huddled fearfully in the Upper Room, go forth with courage to proclaim  the Gospel. This is not a question of novelty for novelty’s sake, the search  for something new to relieve our boredom, as is so often the case in our own  day. The newness which God brings into our life is something that actually  brings fulfilment, that gives true joy, true serenity, because God loves us and  desires only our good. Let us ask ourselves today: Are we open to “God’s  surprises”? Or are we closed and fearful before the newness of the Holy  Spirit? Do we have the courage to strike out along the new paths which God’s  newness sets before us, or do we resist, barricaded in transient structures  which have lost their capacity for openness to what is new? We would do well  to ask ourselves these questions all through the day.

2. A second thought: the Holy Spirit would appear to create disorder in  the Church, since he brings the diversity of charisms and gifts; yet all this,  by his working, is a great source of wealth, for the Holy Spirit is the Spirit  of unity, which does not mean uniformity, but which leads everything back to harmony. In the Church, it is the Holy Spirit who creates harmony. One of  Fathers of the Church has an expression which I love: the Holy Spirit himself is  harmony – “Ipse harmonia est”. He is indeed harmony. Only the  Spirit can awaken diversity, plurality and multiplicity, while at the same time  building unity. Here too, when we are the ones who try to create diversity and  close ourselves up in what makes us different and other, we bring division.  When we are the ones who want to build unity in accordance with our human plans,  we end up creating uniformity, standardization. But if instead we let ourselves  be guided by the Spirit, richness, variety and diversity never become a source  of conflict, because he impels us to experience variety within the communion of  the Church. Journeying together in the Church, under the guidance of her  pastors who possess a special charism and ministry, is a sign of the working of  the Holy Spirit. Having a sense of the Church is something fundamental for  every Christian, every community and every movement. It is the Church which  brings Christ to me, and me to Christ; parallel journeys are very  dangerous! When we venture beyond (proagon) the Church’s teaching and  community – the Apostle John tells us in his Second Letter – and do not  remain in them, we are not one with the God of Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Jn v. 9). So let us ask ourselves: Am I open to the harmony of the Holy Spirit,  overcoming every form of exclusivity?  Do I let myself be guided by him, living  in the Church and with the Church?

3. A final point. The older theologians used to say that the soul is a  kind of sailboat, the Holy Spirit is the wind which fills its sails and drives  it forward, and the gusts of wind are the gifts of the Spirit. Lacking his  impulse and his grace, we do not go forward. The Holy Spirit draws us into the  mystery of the living God and saves us from the threat of a Church which is  gnostic and self-referential, closed in on herself; he impels us to open the  doors and go forth to proclaim and bear witness to the good news of the Gospel,  to communicate the joy of faith, the encounter with Christ. The Holy Spirit is  the soul of mission. The events that took place in Jerusalem almost two  thousand years ago are not something far removed from us; they are events which  affect us and become a lived experience in each of us. The Pentecost of the  Upper Room in Jerusalem is the beginning, a beginning which endures. The Holy  Spirit is the supreme gift of the risen Christ to his apostles, yet he wants  that gift to reach everyone. As we heard in the Gospel, Jesus says: “I will ask  the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to remain with you forever” (Jn 14:16). It is the Paraclete Spirit, the “Comforter”, who grants us the  courage to take to the streets of the world, bringing the Gospel! The Holy  Spirit makes us look to the horizon and drive us to the very outskirts of  existence in order to proclaim life in Jesus Christ. Let us ask ourselves: do  we tend to stay closed in on ourselves, on our group, or do we let the Holy  Spirit open us to mission? Today let us remember these three words: newness,  harmony and mission. Source: The Vatican Website

Holy Things Are For The Holy — Really? Really!

In the Divine Liturgy, just before the faithful are invited to receive the body and blood of Christ, the celebrant says, “Let us be attentive! Holy things are for the holy.”

The faithful respond, “One is Holy, the Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.”

On the surface, it seems, the exchange would be saying, “you can come and receive these holy things (the body and blood of Christ) only if you are as holy as Christ Himself.” In turn, that would, on the surface, seem to disqualify everyone from receiving. After all, we are not as holy as Jesus.

So, why does that dialogue occur? Surely it could not mean what it seems to mean on the surface.

We hear it that way because it touches broken need that is still operative within us to merit God’s love and gifts. And, it is supposed to do just that, to challenge us and yet invite us…

Truly, holy things are for the holy. And truly, only one is holy – the Lord Jesus Christ. AND, we are holy because we have been united with Jesus Christ. So, the holiness of Jesus Christ is our holiness. It is important to register that this is not a “borrowed” holiness. It is really our holiness!! What is His is ours!! God is not pretending we are holy.

That challenges, I dare say, a lot of presuppositions about what salvation is… Is it pretending or is it real? Are we just patched up versions of the old broken persons or new beings? Are we living from Sunday to Sunday attempting “one more time” to get it right this time?

“We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy table, O Lord,” the prayer of humble access says in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. And how misunderstood is that prayer!!!!! In that prayer and every other pre-communion prayer like it, we are saying just the opposite of what we seem to be saying. In and of ourselves, in the presence of God, we are not “worthy” and should never presume to “draw near” receive communion. But we do not approach in and of ourselves. We approach in and of Christ Jesus. In fact, that is a lot of the point of what has occurred during the Holy Eucharist – being able to “draw near” attentively and legitimately “in and of Christ.” We abide in Christ. We are of Christ. We are holy by grace not by pretending. We, during the Liturgy “wake up” to who we really are and approach as we truly are, consciously and without pretending.

So, is there no room for striving. Well, yes and no. There is no room for striving if that striving is for a work we can show God for the purpose of proving our worthiness. That would be boosting and there is no room for that (see Ephesians 2). But there is room for striving if it is for the purpose of abiding in Christ Jesus and  co-operating with the Holy Spirit in the expression of the union we enjoy with in our thoughts, words, and deeds (working out the salvation that has been worked into us). There is no desire to boast in this kind of striving. There is a desire to bless the world and be blessed as a result. A desire to live what we celebrate – the Holy Eucharist.

Pope Francis puts it this way in his audience of October 2nd:

Dear Brothers and Sisters: In the Creed, we confess our faith that the Church is “holy”. But how can we say that the Church is holy when she is all too evidently made up of sinners? Saint Paul helps us to see things aright when he tells us that “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, to make her holy” (Eph 5:25-26). The Church is inseparably one with Christ, and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. It is not ourselves, or our merits, which make the Church holy, but God himself, through the infinite merits of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. God calls all of us, as sinners, to be redeemed, renewed and made holy in the communion of the Church. So the Church constantly welcomes everyone, even the greatest sinners, to trust in God’s offer of loving mercy, and to encounter Christ in the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. Let us not be afraid to respond to Christ’s call, to trust in the working of the Holy Spirit and to pray and strive for that holiness which brings true joy to our lives.

We can boldly draw near, not in our own righteousness (our own worthiness in the sight of God apart from Christ as a result of how “good we have been this week”) but in His. But, His righteousness is our righteousness. This sheds light on the sacrament of reconciliation. It is, among other things, letting go of a very basis sign of needing to be righteous in and of ourselves in the sight of God – to be worthy.

The old prayer of humble access and every pre-communion prayer like it is our re-articulation of what God has been saying during the entirety of the Divine Liturgy — “you are worthy, you are loved.” We must re-articulate it in such a way as to establish, however, that the worthiness is not ours in and of ourselves but ours (truly ours) in and of Christ Jesus. This mystery of an “unworthy worthiness” and “holiness”  and the journey of living it more and more consummately is salvation. In Christ Jesus we are holy without pretending. What is His is ours. Who He is by nature, we are by grace.

The beauty of salvation. The elegant mystery of mercy. The artistic perfection of faith.

Truly, “holy things are for the holy… Draw near in faith.”